Dan King
Dan King · April 29, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—On Friday, the Institute for Justice (IJ) filed an amicus brief in a case before the Louisiana Supreme Court, asking the court to affirm an appeals court’s ruling that the government must provide just compensation when it takes or destroys property for public use. 

From 2013 to 2016, several landowners in New Orleans had their property either damaged or their ability to use their home and church interfered with while the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (SWB) worked on a flood control project called the Southeast Louisiana Urban Drainage Project (SELA). 

Following the damage to their properties, the neighbors sued the SWB for the damage. The property owners won an inverse condemnation claim, and the court awarded them $998,872 in cumulative damages and $517,231 in attorney’s fees. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal of Louisiana upheld that ruling. But the SWB has refused to pay.  

“If the government takes or damages your property for a public benefit, it must provide just compensation, not an ‘I owe you’ promising to one day pay you,” said IJ Attorney Brian Morris. “The Fifth Amendment makes clear that just compensation is mandatory, not up to the government’s discretion.” 

In December 2022, the property owners filed a new lawsuit arguing that the money they were awarded by the trial court was a just compensation award under the Louisiana and U.S. Constitutions, and thus they were entitled to cash payments. The appeals court ruled in favor of the property owners, and now IJ is asking the Louisiana Supreme Court to affirm that ruling. 

“Under the Takings Clause, the payment of just compensation is mandatory, it does require a cash payment, and state officials do not have discretion to withhold payment from landowners,” reads IJ’s brief. 

“If the government gets to decide whether it wants to pay for what it takes, then the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of just compensation turns into a suggestion,” said IJ Deputy Litigation Director Robert McNamara. “But constitutional rights aren’t suggestions, and it is crucial that the Louisiana Supreme Court affirms the lower court’s ruling to protect the rights of all Louisiana property owners.” 

For decades, IJ has fought for the right of individuals to receive just compensation when the government takes or destroys their property for a public use. Recently, IJ won a case 9-0 at the United States Supreme Court, protecting the right of a Texas rancher to seek compensation after the state built a dam on a nearby highway, causing devastating floods on his land.